Sports Out West

John Pagano scheming Chargers’ defense to win

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San Diego Chargers linebackers Jarret Johnson and Donald Butler have not suited up since facing the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 6, and this could have spelled disaster for a team that already lost veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney. The only appointed starting linebacker from the season’s beginning  is rookie Manti Te’o, who didn’t play until the fourth game of the season.

Instead, the Bolts’ defense has not allowed a touchdown in the last 11 quarters, contained their last three opponents to converting only 27.3 percent on third downs and allowed 306 yards per game in the last three outings in comparison to giving up 448 yards per game during the first four outings. In addition, the defense recorded 11 sacks and two interceptions during the final three games.

Who should get the credit for this turnaround? Defensive coordinator John Pagano.

Pagano has been deploying a number of deceptive blitz packages and overturning the line of scrimmage that had Andrew Luck and Chad Henne often scrambling during their respective games against the Chargers. Aside from Larry English, Pagano has no proven pass rushers. Even then, labeling English as a pass rusher is hard to do. Yet, English in his fifth NFL season has 2.5 sacks, half a sack shy of exceeding his career-high.

Pagano also transformed third-year cornerback Johnny Patrick who played 24 games and recorded 27 tackles for the New Orleans Saints into a blitz happy nickelback with 24 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two tackles for a loss and three quarterback hurries in only seven games. Pagano may have been blessed in the form of preseason favorite, Thomas Keiser, who punched in two sacks, two tackles for a loss and two quarterback hurries against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Keiser had tallied similar figures against the Arizona Cardinals in the preseason.

Defensive players considered busts and washed up by other teams have been gems to the Chargers. It’s to the credit of coach Pagano utilizing these players to their strengths and maximizing their potential that’s been molding a roster bursting with holes into a contender. Losing a few key pieces demanded adjustments all across the defense forcing Pagano to deliver and the results have been spectacular.

If the Chargers’ defense continues to play with heart and determination as they have been in past several weeks, the team as a whole should see plenty more wins.

Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

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Jonah Lee

Jonah Lee is a San Diego native residing in Orange County. He has written for FanSided and Yahoo! and is an expert on all things San Diego Chargers. His passion for writing isn’t limited to sports as his ultimate goal is to publish a book about his former military life.